It is late afternoon and I am on my way to BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake. Not for an art opening today, but for a workshop on paper making, and not just any paper making. Today is the Panty Pulping workshop, which is what first caught my attention.
I read beforehand that this is a community empowerment workshop that gives participants the opportunity to transform their own underwear into paper in the public sphere as a way of combating sexual and domestic violence. To quote the press literature,"Participants may take as much time as needed, with rolling attendance and will be able to keep the paper they create, be it made from their personal fiber or the community pulp. Please bring a pair of 'unmentionables' to pulp."
I arrive to find that the workshop is happening outdoors which makes perfect sense since papermaking can be a rather messy business.
The organizers first ask me to sign a pledge to help prevent violence in thought, speech, and action. Then I am guided to the cutting table where two ladies are already shredding their underwear. I join in and soon have a small bucket of pieces.
While my pieces are waiting to be pulped, I am shown how to pull the pulp to make paper. I get to choose the color and then grab two screens and pull the screens through the colored water. Then I gently shake the screens until most of the water has drained off. Then, I remove the top screen and can already see the paper that is emerging. The next step is called couching. The screen is slowly turned upside down and I press the fiber out onto a flat surface and leave it there to dry. At this point, I am working with the communal pulp but now the pulping machine is ready for my sliced undergarment. I get to shake the pieces in and watch as they swirl around in the water and are slowly decomposed into what will become more communal pulp.
You may ask, why panties? The folks running this workshop have the answer ready in their handmade handout. "We take the most intimate piece of our dress and put it on the table. Each pair means something different. A memory, a felling, an anxiety, beauty, pleasure, hurt. All of the most intimate meanings in our unmentionables. We cut them up together meditating on the feelings and the combined electricity of breaking something in order to make something."
It is a beautiful sentiment and a lovely sense of camaraderie emerges among the participants. I have to leave before my paper is dry and my garment is completely pulped but I leave my name and e-mail so I will be able to collect the paper I pulled on another occasion.
It is a gentle and wonderful introduction to a lovely art. BluSeed Studios is offering many more workshops over the summer season including pottery, book making, and painting and enameling projects.
For more information on the Panty Pulping Project, click through to the web site.
To learn more about events in the Saranac Lake Region, check out the Region's web site.
Kathleen Recchia has been enjoying the arts in the Adirondacks for about 20 years—both as observer and participant (acting, directing, and producing). She also enjoys cross-country skiing, swimming, juggling, and hosting visitors to the area at her bed & breakfast in Jay.